President Harry Truman popularized the statement, “If you can’t convince ’em, confuse ’em!” Another politician added, “If you can’t convince ’em, confuse ’em: if you can’t confuse ’em, scare ’em.” It seems to work these days, but my goal is to do neither. If I do, please forgive me.
October 31st, November 1st, and 2nd mark three holy days in a row, all with very similar names: All Saints’ Eve (a.k.a. All Hallows Eve and Halloween), All Saints’ Day, and All Souls’ Day. They are similar but distinct.
At least 2,000 years ago, Celtic pagans settled on November 1st as the beginning of winter, and according to Celtic beliefs, the day before was when the spirits of those who had died may come back and seek revenge against those who had harmed them. Folks would go to great lengths to protect themselves from the marauding spirits, including dressing up in costumes to scare off the evil that might come their way.
Later, the Christians would establish November 1st as the day to celebrate all the known capital “S” Saints, including the vast number of martyrs. We celebrate Saints almost every week, but these days are reserved only for the biggies. There aren’t enough days in the year to celebrate all the rest, so the Church combined the celebration of all these other Saints and designated November 2nd as the day for everybody else. It works, but to incorporate the pagan holiday of October 31st, the Church extended the feast of All Saints’ Day to two days.
Now, as for today, November 2nd is All Souls’ Day, which is really about the souls in purgatory and everybody who is not a capital “S” Saint. Purgatory came about partly because of the understanding of I Corinthians 3:11-15: “For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now, if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble—each man’s work will become manifest; for the Day will disclose it because it will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work which any man has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.”
These verses indicate that a soul, not destined for Hell but still in need of additional purification, would go through a period of cleansing or purging before entering Heaven. The place—Purgatory. Whether we believe in Purgatory or not, All Souls’ Day—today—is the day that we remember not only the Saints who have died but all who have died, in hope and faith that they will be made acceptable to God and made worthy to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. It was the teaching of the Church that through the prayers of the living, we could assist these souls in Purgatory to more speedily attain the glory of Heaven, so each Mass, we pray for those who have died.
Is this teaching true or false? I’ll let you decide, but should I die before you, please pray for my soul… just in case.